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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

August Long Weekend Camping Reunion!

A couple of years ago, I started a tradition of hosting a long weekend camping party in the summer up at my place. On a long weekend of my choosing, my friends, some family, and I would get together at a spot on my parents' property and have a weekend of campfires, tents, and everything else that traditionally goes with such an event.

I ran them for a couple of years, but then I had to stop. I started working at the Toronto Island Marina, a job which is busiest on weekends, especially the long ones. So, I stopped hosting parties for a couple of years.

But not this year!

Ironically, despite being 3 provinces away, it was actually easier to host the party this year. As soon as I was hired by Shaw, I booked the August Long weekend off, and booked my plane ticket! I invited my friends, made plans, over-planned, and got ready to have a reunion like no other.

This year's party was fantastic, as all previous have been, even more so because it was a real reunion amongst my friends and family. I have been in Edmonton since the 24th of May, and I missed my family and friends very much. This party was the only chance I will have of seeing them until Christmas time, (or after) and I was looking forward to it! One additional, extremely fantastic bonus was that I was able to bring Brittany along to reunite her with friends she hasn't seen in over a year, and give her a chance to meet my family.

The flights from Edmonton to Ottawa were pleasant enough. We started early in the day, leaving at 7am, and arrived in Ottawa around 3pm. My mother picked us up at the airport, and we were on our way.

Not directly home, however, but somewhere equally as exciting! My mother had been planning an anniversary present for my dad for about a year now, and had been working toward it quite craftily, if I may say so. Knowing my dad's interest in stargazing, notably by his reluctance to come indoors on a beautiful, clear, summer night, she started off by giving him a starchart many months ago. Then, she proceeded to give him a set of fully recline-able folding lawn chairs for his birthday so he may lie down instead of staring straight up and straining his neck.

A few months ago, my mom asked me to look into telescopes, as I had more experience with them and would know what to look for. I researched, and asked around, and this was what I came up with.

The Celestron NexStar 4" SE Telescope has a 4" aperture, with a motorized mount. The motor, which can be powered by batteries, a car adapter, or by plugging it in normally, also has a computer system in it for tracking and cataloging objects in the night sky. It comes with 38 000 objects in its database, and has the ability to strap a camera onto the end for easy astrophotography. It includes a steady frame, and is an impressive unit. Conferring with the staff at Focus Scientific, the store which looked most promising in Ottawa, we decided this would be the best unit for my dad. My dad has a fervent fascination with the stars, but only amateur use with telescopes. Still, he is willing to learn, and I wanted to give him something which would be easy to set up but could grow and provide more functions as he saw fit. Also, the entire family has a strong interest, and I wanted something which would be useful for all skill levels and interests.

Bringing it home was quite exciting, and my mom wrapped the external power supplies in pretty blue wrapping paper. Opening it up, my dad realized what it was, but not what it was for. Pointing out the large box in the dining room, I helped him to open it. I admit to being as excited as he was, and having to remind myself that this was his present and that I should step back a little. But, it was exciting! We used to check out the stars together, and it's one of my earliest memories! Anyway, my dad opened the box and seemed pretty excited, as I caught him on film. My dad is a silent fellow, usually, and so his exuberance was hard to measure, but I could tell by how he dove into the instruction manual, after I teased him that he should actually read the thing, I could tell that my dad was really pumped for this gift. In the spirit of romance and gift-giving, my dad gave my mom her anniversary gift a little early as well, which turned out to be an elaborate puzzle ring. I will include a picture of it once I get a picture from my mom. She loved it, of course, and it was a nice little moment.

To backtrack a little, the drive between the airport, the telescope shop, and home was uneventful, but had a few moments which were interesting, to me at least. First, my mom unveiled the stress she had been carrying. My mom balances a lot of things, sometimes unfairly, and she had already been awake for 14 hours that day, doing the job of 5, before she had picked Brittany and I up at the airport. Thankfully, Brittany has already witnessed my mother's strong personality, as she was often around when my parents helped me move in/out of residence; usually a very stressful time. Still, my mom let out her stress, and I could see that it didn't faze Brittany at all. I wasn't surprised by this, but relieved. My mom is awesome, but usually a little startling. The second little thing, or set of things to happen, was that Brittany was very helpful in helping us find things in Ottawa. For someone who has rarely been in that city, her powers of observation continued to serve her well (V for Vendetta quotation) and her keen eye caught my mother's attention. Once or twice, I caught a look of approval from my mom, and I could tell a good first impression had been made.

Now, I am going to stop right here and make something perfectly clear; something which I thought had been by now, but I have been told was not: Brittany is my girlfriend.

I apologize for those who have found out just now, but really, don't feel bad, it's quite common. While most of you know me to be open in nature, I usually keep some things pretty close. Sure, I tell you, and most of those I know, mostly everything, but at heart, I am a private person. It's an unusual paradox, I know, but basically, I share a lot with you all because I want to, because there is no reason not to. But, when it comes to personal relationships, especially budding ones, I am careful. I kept the information close not out of fear, but out of respect, for me, for Brittany, and for our relationship.

Anyway, I do apologize for anyone finding out this way now. Please don't be insulted, but the truth of the matter is, while our courtship had been for some time, our relationship did not start until I came here to Edmonton. After which time, things progressed so naturally and so wonderfully between ourselves that I felt more like developing it than boasting about it. Not that it was unworthy of boasting, but I preferred to direct such energy to her, rather than to shouting it from the mountains (which I haven't had a chance to see yet, anyway, haha)

Yes, the motivation to move here was a little more than job-dependent, but I am not so big a fool as to have made the decision to move here based on my heart alone. Some of you may mock this, some of you have mocked this, but I know my mind and I know my heart, and I know how to balance them both. 

So, ugh, long rambling tangent later, basically, it was nice for my girlfriend and my mom to get to know each other, and approve of each other. The drive back to the airport on the Monday cemented said approval as my mom discussed some of Brittany's finer points aloud. I won't go into them here, but it's just nice not having to worry about the scrutiny of my parents. My sister seems to like Brittany as well, judging by her favourable reactions to Brittany's piano expertise, and her interest in Celtic music. That was just the cherry on top of the whole weekend; my family is extremely protective of me and while it's nice, it was more nice to share someone with them without having it feel forced, sudden, or uncomfortable.

So, made it home, telescope was set up, and man was it ever sweet! I forgot to get a picture of the Moon that night, but the scope's view was incredibly impressive. You could see the outline and shadow of every single crater! It was extremely bright, and incredible to view. I look forward to looking at nebulae, and other planets through it, and I know my dad is just itching to try it out too. Plus, the computer system is great for auto-locating targets. Just ask for, say Mars, and the telescope aligns itself!

Late, tired, and in the dark of night, the rest of my friends arrived! Danielle (my sister by the way) and her friends had already done quite a bit of work that day getting the spot ready for our party, including gathering wood, clearing the firepit, and setting up some tents. Carrying all of my stuff, and helping my friends to carry theirs, was no easy feat, but eventually, we all made it up top and all tents were made. We had an assortment of shapes and sizes, with Steve's tent being large enough to hold some of the smaller ones.

Staying up entirely too late, it was a good first night, full of friends, family, and fun!

We started the next day off with a wonderful breakfast, prepared mostly by Jason and Brittany. Jason tended the fire, and Brittany cooked the bacon and eggs while avoiding the smoke Jason stirred up, haha.

After everyone was fed and awake, we decided to go into town to do some shopping. Some of my over-planning previously had provided us with bacon, eggs, and hotdogs/hamburgers/buns, all on a combined party tab, but I had asked people to shop for their own drinks and snacks. It worked out quite well and we even all pitched in on some S'More ingredients, having to "settle" for the giant marshmellows as the normal-sized ones were unavailable. I wish I had gotten a picture, but there were several amusing moments where people tried stuffing their mouths with a marshmellow while saying "Fluffy bunny" and failing hilariously!

Making it back, and putting our food on ice, we decided to go swimming. Reminded of a nice swimming spot just down the road from my place, we set off. The spot was called Tooey Lake, and it was a really nice place to relax, swim, and spend the afternoon. We swam, tanned, had snacks, and enjoyed the day. The water, which was remarkably clean, cooled us off and was a nice respite from the weather.

Walking back to the party spot after our swim was an unfortunate adventure. While my sister and I have been traipsing back and forth through that path for ages, not once had we seen, or had to deal with, a bee hive. I guess with the greater number of people, the odds were higher, and 7/10 of us were stung by bees, some multiple times. Thankfully, my friend Kyle, allergic to bees, was not stung, but as mentioned, most others were. It was a sad experience, but I really have to congratulate everyone on their reaction. First off, no one really panicked, other than the initial running away from the spot, which was warranted. Secondly, while I should have foreseen this, what with the 3 ex-dons, the quick triage of the situation was most impressive. Everyone and everything was quickly taken care of, and I honestly felt a little lost only because I was not stung and there was nothing I could do to help. It was a weird situation for me, feeling so helpless, but I appreciate the feeling, knowing that it was because my friends are so on top of things. Thankfully, the pain subsided in time, and everyone seemed to move on from the event quite nicely. Or at least, they were incredibly stoic about it.

The next set of misfortunes seemed to happen mostly to my friend Jason. First, he contracted a rash, poison ivy, it turns out, on his ankles which became very bad toward the end of the weekend. Other than commenting on it, and wondering if it was indeed a rash of some sort, he fought the urge to scratch quite bravely. The next thing was that a piece of wood punctured his sandal and his foot. It bled quite a bit, but again, my friends took care of things quite quickly. After all that, and bug bites, I had expected my friends to have frowns by the end of the party, but they showed me how tough they really are, smiling and enjoying the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, it rained, as expected, and while we had originally agreed to play volleyball at my grandparents' trailer park, no one was in the mood to play, especially after the aforementioned injuries. After another delicious breakfast, again not cooked by me (thanks guys!), we decided to nurse our wounds and just relax for the day.

I was still planning on going to see my grandparents and extended family, and by the late afternoon Brittany, Jason, and Brandy came with me. It didn't make much sense in my other friends coming as without the volleyball or trip to the beach, the trip was entirely one for a family connection and might have been awkward with more people. The three of them came for the company, and for Brittany to meet some more of my family, but left early due to fatigue, and Jason's inability to join us in the potluck due to his peanut/nut allergy. That was okay, I enjoyed the time with family, and they enjoyed the uninterrupted time with me. The food was also magnificent.

Leaving my grandparents a little early, I came back to find the party in full swing. Everyone was chatting, laughing, having a great time, and it was my favourite moment of the entire weekend. I had been in a mood earlier that day, balancing the empathy of injuries and the demands of time-management between friends and family, and found the moment allowed me to relax and have fun. Unfortunately, I was called away to play designated driver for a cousin of mine, but it was a nice drive, which I shared with Alex. Coming back, everyone was so tired, they apologized and went to bed. I didn't mind as I understood and had had my fun.

The weekend was an incredible time to catch up and interact with friends and family. Seeing my friends again was a treat, and watching them interact was as interesting as it was enjoyable. I missed everyone and it was nice to catch up.

Brandy and Jason, my friends almost the longest out of the group of friends, were cute, adorable, hilarious, and I re-realized how much I miss their company.

It was nice to see and catch up with Stephanie, and I really enjoyed having her out at my place again. She also took all of these pictures, so I thank her for that too! I had missed Michelle quite a bit, but due to us both being busy, and adjusting to the change, our interactions were a little limited at first. Our friendship is the newest and the one which is most unused to change. It was good to catch up, and I know we'll work things out.

Steve was his usual hilarious self, and it was great getting him out to my party, as the previous years he has been busy working a summer job at Wasaga Beach.
It was Alex's first time out, and his first time camping. I have to say he provided a lot of the entertainment, whether it be teaching us all about religion and philosophy, throat-singing in the middle of the night, or just coming up with crazy antics.

Patrick came once again, and this time did not get bitten by my dog! I was happy to hang out with him as I hadn't seen him in quite some time.

My friend Kyle even came out which was incredibly surprising. He didn't even tell me until I heard it whispered from Jason. His was, as always, a comforting and awesome presence, and I am glad he was able to make it out. He had to leave early, due to work, which is why he isn't in the group shots at the end.

After a long day of packing and cleaning, and flying back to Edmonton, I enjoyed the luxury of a shower before crashing into bed. Getting back to work has been a chore, but the weekend was well worth any fatigue. I thank everyone who came out and helped to make it a highlight of my summer, and I thank my family for hosting and getting the place ready.

Lastly, I thank you, for reading, and I hope you also had a wonderful August long weekend!

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